Lefty O’Doul Cards Sell at Hall of Fame Level
O’Doul didn’t reach Cooperstown but the prices for his cards remain strong
The record shows that Lefty O’Doul’s career spanned a total of 16 years. But in reality, O’Doul played only parts of 11 seasons.
Even that number is somewhat deceptive and the ‘parts’ must be emphasized. In all, O’Doul played in six full seasons and suited up a total of 159 games across four others.
O’Doul’s career got off to a really slow star as he split time in the majors and minors early on. He broke in with the Yankees in 1919 as a 22-year-old but played in only 19 games, batting .250. In 1920, he played in only 13 contests. He would continue to play sparsely in 1922 until seeing considerable time in 1923, primarily as a pitcher with the Red Sox. But with a 5.43 ERA primarily as a relief pitcher, it was clear his future wasn’t on the mound.
In fact, his future didn’t even look like it would be in the majors. From 1924 through 1927, O’Doul toiled in the minor leagues. But a funny thing happened — he became an offensive superstar. O’Doul hit 24 home runs in 1925 and another 20 in 1926. In 1927, he slugged 33 home runs and O’Doul was doing it all while hitting for obscenely high averages. In 1924, he nearly hit .440, finishing with a .392 batting average. Over the next three seasons, he would hit .375, .338, and .378, respectively. All of that was enough for him to get another look in the majors.
And he didn’t disappoint.
O’Doul hit only eight home runs in 1928 but he batted .319 in his first full season in the majors. In 1929, he had a season for the ages, hitting 32 home runs while batting .398. He nearly won the Most Valuable Player award, finishing second to only Rogers Hornsby, and led the league in hits, average, and on-base percentage.
O’Doul produced further impressive seasons, hitting .383 in 1930 and leading the league in hitting again in 1932, batting .368. He would continue producing through 1934 when he hit .316 in limited action with the Giants. But at 37, he would be relegated to the minor leagues after that season, playing and managing. O’Doul continued playing in the Pacific Coast League through 1940 as a 43-year-old. He even returned to play a single game in the 1944, 1945, and as a 59-year-old, in 1956.
The legacy of the slugger includes a significant impact in Japan, He routinely traveled to the country, starting in the 1930s, helping to arrange tours of players for games and helping to promote the sport. His efforts were so significant in that country that he was inducted in the Japanese Baseball Hall of Fame.
O’Doul had a relatively short career in the majors, considering he did not even play in 1,000 games. But his big seasons in the late 1920s and early 1930s have made his cards very desirable. O’Doul’s cards, in fact, are priced somewhat as lower-end Hall of Famers.
Among his more popular cards are his 1933 Goudey issues. O’Doul is found twice in the set and even though the cards are not extremely rare, you’ll still pay about $50 for his cards starting in mid-grade condition, on par with several lesser Hall of Famers in the set.
He’s also present in the more expensive candy sets of the 1930s, including the 1932 U.S. Caramel set and the 1933 DeLong set. Both of those cards easily start at more than $100 in decent condition.
A cheaper ‘card’ is found in the 1930s Diamond Matchbooks set. There, O’Doul is found with his matchbook cover selling for around $10-$15. Still, those are generally more inexpensive with commons selling for only a few bucks.
With most of his cards in the 1930s, the bulk of the sets he is in are candy issues. But he’s also found in a few strip card sets, including the rarer W517 and W553 strip cards. Prices vary on those quite a bit because they aren’t for sale as much as most of the gum cards. But these cards can start at around $50-$100 as well.
His W553 card (shown here), in particular, is interesting. The W553 strip card set consisted of only ten cards and all were stars. In fact, O’Doul is the only player not to be elected to the Baseball Hall of Fame and he’s in the set among the likes of Babe Ruth, Lou Gehrig, Mickey Cochrane, Rogers Hornsby, and others. The set was clearly designed to include baseball’s biggest stars and in 1929, O’Doul certainly belonged in that discussion.
O’Doul ultimately didn’t put together the statistics necessary to make it to Cooperstown but his talent is recognized by collectors and that is reflected in the prices of his cards.